I never pretended I was a boy. I just was the way I was. This flustered adults who (mis)gendered me as a boy. As if I was trying to pull something over on them. As if I was being dishonest. As if it was a game that went to far. It embarrassed the adults; they didn’t like being fooled.
Being seen as a boy is different from pretending I was a boy. I continued seeing myself as a boy long after I should have gotten the picture that being a girl is permanent. I refused to inhabit the pink world, the Barbie and ballet class world. I refused to think of myself as a girl. Other people call this denial, but I see it as a form of self-determination.
I tried as much as possible to stay in the range of activities where I could see myself as a boy. This required a fair amount of magical thinking, e.g. “This isn’t a three-quarter length sleeve shirt – it’s a football jersey and I’m a quarterback.” I dissociated from my body. By staying inside myself I avoided having to face the world as a girl. I would rather do nothing than do something girlish. I played by myself a lot.
The stereotype of butch lesbians is that we are pretending to look like or act like men. Some butches (and some trans guys and some cis guys) may lay it on a little heavy for some people’s taste; we may project a type of masculinity that some find offensive or unattractive. After a life time of being told to tone it down and not be so blatant, it is not easy to trust my instincts or to get it right. Continue reading →
Donna and I went to see Casa Valentina, the new Harvey Fierstein play. We saw it in previews, so this is not a review. The play is set during a spring weekend in the 1960’s, at a resort in the Catskills that caters to men who cross-dress. There once was a real place called Casa Susanna. It turns out that I have a lot in common with the guys who went there.
The real life patrons of Casa Susanna; found photographs.
Before I knew the words homosexual, deviant, gay, lesbian, butch, queer, or transgender, I cross-dressed. As often as I could get away with it. I did it as early as nursery school, refusing to put on a dress and insisting on wearing blue. I was a stubborn kid. I put on my brother’s clothes. Including his underwear. I had a separate male persona.
In cross-dressing circles there is a lot of discussion about whether the cross-dresser is transgender or an otherwise normal heterosexual guy who just likes to dress en femme. There are distinctions made between straight men who sometimes wear women’s clothing and gay men who do drag. There is an organization, Tri-Ess, dedicated to providing safe spaces for heterosexual men to cross-dress. They have a bill of rights for both cross-dressers and their partners (wives). It is a bit of a 1960’s throwback.
My mother was a bully. She was abusive. I thought it was my fault. She wanted a normal child and she got me instead.
My mother felt cheated. She wanted a daughter. I was supposed to be sweet and polite, neat and nicely dressed, smart but deferential. I was supposed to go along with the plan. My brother complied. I resisted. Resistance is not the same as doing what you want. Continue reading →
No, I’ve never been asked that question. Today I was “Sir’d” while I was waiting to buy a loaf of bread at Bien Cuit. I did not correct the counter-man, and he did not apologise. Mostly I am read as female but several times a week I am read as male. I answer to either.
I realize that it would be easy to be consistently read as female. That it is completely in my control. If it bothered me to be “Sir’d” I could be “Miss’d ” or “Ma’am’d” in an instant. It isn’t that strangers don’t pay any attention when they look at me. They don’t see obvious female clues, so they default to male. I don’t do any of the things that women are supposed to do to look like a woman. Some people get confused because they see my gender, but they don’t see my sex. Some people get angry because they think I should be easier to read. They don’t like having to think. Some people hate ambiguity.
In theory, I could wear earings that dangled. Or I could wear glasses that are feminine. I could carry a purse. I could tweeze my eyebrows. I could shave my legs. I could wear make-up. I could wear a scarf like a woman wears it. I could style my hair differently. I could wear jewelry (other than studs in my ears). I could wear women’s clothing, or a woman’s winter jacket, or a woman’s hat, or women’s gloves. I could color my hair. I could show cleavage. If I did just one of those things, if I gave just one visible clue, I would automatically register as “Miss”. But I am never going to do any of those things. I am never going to make an effort to look like a girl for anyone. I make an effort to look the way I look.
I am so far down the butch bunny trail that I couldn’t even remember the word that went with eyebrows (shave? thin? thread?) and I started to write “wear a purse” because the phrase “carry a purse” is not in my vocabulary. I have to accept that it is no accident when I am “Sir’d”. I have to accept that when I look in the mirror I want to I read myself as “not a girl”. I have to accept that whichever way you read me, by sex or by gender, you are right.